Driving the Plug-In Prius

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Sierra Club. Author credit goes to Gina Coplon-Newfield.

When I first heard about Toyota’s plans for the plug-in Prius, I remember thinking, “What kind of customer would buy a plug-in car that has such a short electric range of 11-15 miles?” Then, as I thought about it, I realized this car actually fits my family’s needs to a T.

We’re a one-car family (except for a brief period right now). On most week days, we drive under 10 miles around our home city of Cambridge, MA (where we often walk or take the train or bus). However, we couldn’t justify buying a full battery electric and renting or car-sharing a gas-powered vehicle on the occasions when we needed one (as would work for many families), given that we take our two kids on upwards of 20 long-distance highway trips each year to visit family throughout New England.


Image via Toyota

I just love my new plug-in Prius. In a recent blog post, I described how I came to the decision that this car was absolutely the right one for us, but other plug-ins are better choices for many other people. Like all EVs, our car is quiet, smooth, and much gentler to the planet than our last car. My daughters love telling their friends about driving electric, and they have fun plugging it in and listening to the Sirius XM radio stations. My neighbors ask about the car.

I’m thrilled that almost all of our local city driving miles are electric — with no gas or tailpipe emissions (see here for information on electric vehicle emissions). After its electric charge is gone, it is like a regular 50-mpg Prius — giving us the oil and emissions savings for our long highway trips that we sought.

When I first start my car after a full charge, it gives me an estimated number of miles I can go on electricity. For a while, each morning it told me about 11.3 miles. Now, it’s usually about 12.5. When I asked Toyota’s Product Communications Specialist David Lee how the car comes to this estimate, he said that the car’s computer system is basing this number on my recent driving patterns — how many hills we encounter, whether we’re using the heat or AC, and how efficiently my husband and I drive — like how gently we accelerate and brake. I think it’s great that Toyota is encouraging people like me with type A personalities to strive for more efficient driving.

If we stop suddenly, go up a really steep hill, or drive over 62 miles per hour, the plug-in Prius does rely on a bit of oil. Given that our long-distance highway driving is in hybrid and not EV mode, the only time I’ve noticed this occurring was when I once had to slam on the brakes when someone veered into my lane (embarrassingly, I think my gut reaction was, “Not my new car!” and not something about my safety). The reason I knew I had burned a bit of oil was that when I arrived at my destination, instead of the normal 999 mpg equivalent estimate that the car told me I had driven, it told me a slightly lower number, which was still many times better than a non-plug-in Prius trip would have been.

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